Food & Drink / Barbeque is messy. Unpretentious. Anything but classy. Still, it’s serious. Some restaurants try to make it something it’s not by breaking rules that shouldn’t be broken. While barbeque isn’t exactly something Hawaii is known for, there are some saucy and not-so-saucy spaces hidden in ‘Aiea and Kaimuki that you shouldn’t miss the next time you are craving smoked meat and sweet tea.
Pity the Fool Who Ignores These Ribs
If you haven’t been to Hog Island BBQ, prepare yourself for some ridiculously good ribs. Inside the small Kaimuki smokehouse, a woman lovingly polishes a stainless-steel machine that takes up nearly half of the restaurant’s space.
“That’s my baby,” she says. This $20,000 bad boy stares back at a customer like the Pitmaster’s bodyguard, making one reflect on whether or not to argue about the fact that Hog Island may or may not serve up genuine Memphis-style barbeque.
The baked beans ($1.75) are slow cooked in a spiced beef stock with small pieces of smoked-beef brisket and a Guinness barbeque sauce. A sweet aftertaste hits the taste buds like it should when paired with pulled pork, beef brisket and barbequed chicken.
The cheese-less scalloped potatoes ($3.25) are covered in cream and slow cooked in their own blend of spices. A mac-and-cheese dish ($3.25) is smothered in cheddar, Monterey Jack, provolone, mozzarella, Parmesan and cream. But the beans trump them both.
What’s so special about Hog Island BBQ aren’t the sides. It’s the smoked meat. The pulled pork ($7.95) isn’t stringy and doesn’t remind you of sucking on a leather shoe sole (like many do). Instead, it’s moist and balanced with the right amount of smoke and fat. Likewise, the beef brisket ($8.25) is cooked beautifully with a bit of a caramelized crunch and works well with the Guinness barbeque sauce. Overall though, it’s the ribs that make this smokehouse worth talking about.
The dry-rub works and the Mr. T-like smoker makes it almost seem too easy to pull off. If Hog Island’s ribs were a car, they’d be a muscle car. These classic, quasi-Memphis-style ribs have serious attitude.
I Knight Thee, Sir Priester
One might argue that fried chicken doesn’t belong at a barbeque. But that person clearly isn’t from the South, and that person is obviously using a “c” instead of “q” in the spelling of the sacred word. From Tennessee to Louisiana and back up through Georgia and North Carolina, one will be hard pressed to find any barbeque spread without a basket of fried chicken.
Before we deconstruct Soul Cafe’s golden fried chicken, let’s talk about its sweet tea. This southern delicacy is temperamental. It’s a tricky phenomenon that many restaurants never, ever get right. But when a short glass of Southern sweet iced tea ($2) hits the tongue of this writer, the skies turn orange again, the mountains blue, and Appalachian music fills the island air.
Surprisingly, Soul Cafe’s buttermilk cilantro coleslaw ($5) is almost equally as good. It’s fresh, not too vinegary and not too sweet. Maybe it’s because of the cilantro, or maybe it’s because this chef understands that when working with cabbage, the gloves must come off.
So now we’re to the part where chef Sean Priester’s philosophy on buttermilk-fried chicken makes this writer vow to never again drive through KFC for a quick fix. It’s just not worth it. For $5, one can order two monster-sized pieces of buttermilk-fried chicken from Soul Cafe that will blow the mind. It’s crispy where it should be crispy. It’s savory, juicy, delightfully buttery, and when paired with sweet-corn cornbread ($3), a side of slaw, and a glass of sweet-Jesus-tea, a sentimental Indian summer returns.
Put Some South in Your Mouth
Perhaps what’s most special about Dixie Grill, besides its monstrous mugs of sweet tea, is its terrific sense of humor. This place is plain and simple fun. There’s a sand pit for kids, outdoor seating for those hoping to soak up the sun and a full dining area with a massive bar for those serious about sticky fingers and ice-cold beer.
To start things off, customers are given a basket of popcorn, which is a good idea anywhere except Hawaii–let’s just say you need to eat it fast, otherwise the humidity takes over and the popcorn ends up tasting like pieces of the inside of a couch. Yet we like free things and we appreciate the gesture.
After ordering a nearly $5 glass of sweet tea, this writer almost certainly fainted. But three refills later, she dropped the issue and walked out with a happy, sweet-tea hangover.
The Southern fried okra with barbeque aioli ($6.25) comes jam-packed inside a diner’s food basket and has just the right amount of zing. The breading is crispy and the okra is firm; the aioli is spicy and sweet. The menu is filled with Southern-style sides as well as St. Louis- and Kansas City-barbeque choices, not to mention a heaping of fried seafood favorites and oysters on the half shell.
The bourbon-baked beans ($3.75) are excellent, and give the brisket and pulled pork ($12.95) an extra amount of umph when paired together. A six-pack of regional sauces enable the patron to choose which barbeque style to inhabit for the day–Memphis-style dry rub, Kansas City dark sauce, Southwestern-Texas style, Carolina vinegar-based sauce or two of Dixie Grill’s special concoctions.
If fun is what you’re looking for, with a side of pretty decent barbeque, Dixie Grill is a perfect choice. Just remember, they’re all in on the joke.